Monday, April 27, 2009

For the Self-Employed: What I've Learned About Managing Client Lists

One thing I learned from losing my primary client back in October: create a stable of clients that you do work for. When I lost my primary client, I lost my income source. Yes, I had other clients, but their work is much, much more occasional (I've had a small project from one of them, since October, and another small project is coming my way soon). In limiting myself to one major client, I took the lazy way to managing my client list: I had a client that kept me fairly busy, and paid me well, so why did I need to worry about landing other clients to provide me with other, ongoing work?

A business owner I know commented, when he heard I'd lost my primary client, "we've all done that" and stated it was a learning lesson for business owners, and that most business owners he knew had made the same mistake early on. Though, I think this is one of those things that you have to experience yourself -- especially when you have a client that takes up so much time. I did occasionally look for other clients, and I did work on other projects for other clients, but I never specifically looked for work from a client that had more regular, ongoing work.

Now, I'm working on building a stable of clients. I'm now actively doing work for three different clients. Though, I might be losing the smallest of these clients, and another is kinda in hot water with me. Still though, because I'm working on building a client list that provides me with smaller projects, I'm protecting myself in the long-term. If I lose the smallest client, I still have two others; if I boot the hot water client, I still have the newest client.

The downside to this, is that I'm not yet making enough money to cover my basic monthly expenses. Though, that is also related to me having to take work that pays below (far below) what I'm accustomed to earning; this is just how the economy is, and I live in a city where there is a glut of technical writers and where it's nigh impossible for me to find a new technical writing client. To be clear, I'm not writing content now, I'm editing content. I enjoy editing, but it doesn't tend to pay as much as writing, and these clients just don't pay that much. However, I'm doing what I have to do to work on getting by, and right now, the only clients I can land are low-paying ones, so that's what I do -- low pay is better than no pay, and I also have the benefit of adding more direct editing experience to my resume, which will pay off in the future.

So, like investing, my new maxim for being self-employed is this: diversify. Not only will it provide you with variety, it will help keep you stable if you lose a client (or even if you don't have work from a client for a couple months).

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